Directed by: William Stone
Normandy, 1944. A firefight breaks out between two soldiers on the grounds of an abandoned manor.
Ironically, The Manor’s strengths and weaknesses rests on its similarities to war epics like Saving Private Ryan. The German (Joe Ashman) and American (Conor Hartnett) soldiers in the film are astoundingly cast by Gabriele Farinella.
The two actors exist between looking too young to die and psychologically aged from the horrors they have witnessed.
Ashman and Hartnett perform with facial expressions and body language instead of dialogue. The German is portrayed with pathos because he is protecting a satchel containing the belongings of a dead fellow soldier. The American resembles Don McCullin’s photograph of a shell-shocked soldier. Overall, there is exhaustion on their faces.
Idan Itzhayek’s strong score works in time to the characters’ movements. Fast-paced strings grace a chase sequence which ceases when the German dives for cover and there are short, subtle notes when he is sneaking around. The score is also occasionally absent such as right before the battle in which it adds to an almost jump scare-like moment and later on when the German observes his target from within the manor. During the climax, a choir and horns emphasise the horror which lead to sad strings at the end. Itzhayek successfully helps to deliver the story and emotion.
William Stone’s, Adam Pickford’s and James McKeever’s positive editing shows a character’s intention and aim through their point of view like the American watching the manor or the German spotting the satchel. Other examples include the gentle fade-in of the opening, wide shots establishing locations and lengthy close-ups of important objects. In contrast, action scenes are quickly cut together without appearing nauseous. At the end, there is a slow fade-out that stylistically brings the film full circle.
Stone’s and Pickford’s script is a lesson in not needing dialogue (this connotes the moment of silence for remembrance) whilst keeping the shootout interesting. It wisely begins with exposition before following the German’s satchel. The narrative is bookended by the makeshift cemetery to suggest a cycle of violence.
Pickford’s cinematography captures bleakness with strong lighting. There are motifs like the soldier’s iconic silhouette, a shovel striking dirt as a grave is dug in a poppy field or the sight of blood on a flower that signifies war ruining peace.
Will Todd’s chosen location looks convincing as Normandy and both abandoned structures show war’s disregard for history. More of the manor’s interior would have been nice, but considering the size restrictions, the location works well.
Unlike the “HELL YEAH ‘MERICA!” patriotism of Pearl Harbor, this film carries substance such as humanising a German soldier. There is also the idea that the satchel embodies a burden to be carried by the soldier responsible for the death of a colleague or enemy.
The Manor is amazing because, other than its emotional resonance, it could quite easily be mistaken for a big budget production. The war is depicted tastefully with attention to detail in aspects such as uniforms, its young actors provide a sense of realism and it potentially stands out because of its German protagonist. However, it arguably simplifies the war what with no English, French, etc. and there are inaccuracies such as fingers on triggers when guns are not fired. Fortunately, any other arguments made would only be nit-picks because the successes outweigh the failures. Therefore, there is hope that the cast and crew go on to bigger projects because their influence would benefit the film industry.